Safe staffing and health access

Achieve safe nurse staffing in all settings to ensure health and optimize the quality of care. Advocate for increased support to nursing degree programs to promote diverse workforce development. Ensure equitable access to health services so that all people can attain their highest level of health and receive the right care from the appropriate provider, in the right place, at an affordable cost.

This story appears in 2021 to 2023 biennial report.

2023 Safe Staffing Bill (SB5236) headed for passage after massive advocacy efforts for safe staffing in 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions and intense negotiations and revisions.

WSNA President Lynnette Vehrs served on the state’s Universal Health Care Work Group and testified for SB 5399 during the 2021 state legislative session. The bill created a Universal Healthcare Commission to help establish a universal system of healthcare for all residents.

Partnered with the Department of Health to feature trusted nurses on how to stay safe during the pandemic as part of a series of public service announcements.

Filed patient safety complaints: Degraded mattresses and unexpected neonatal death resulted in an immediate jeopardy finding that required the facility to address the problem to continue operations.

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Safe staffing and health access

The hard-fought safe-staffing bill (SB 5236) was signed into law April 20 by Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee.

The bill closes many of the loopholes and weaknesses in existing law and moves patient safety and the working conditions of nurses and other healthcare workers to the forefront; it represents significant progress toward the goal of safe staffing.

For the bill to pass, language requiring ratios was dropped. However, the bill includes much stronger enforcement of staffing plans developed by staffing committees, eliminates CEO veto power over those plans, and convenes an Advisory Committee including representatives of nurses, other healthcare workers, hospitals, and others, and staffed by the Department of Labor & Industries and the Department of Health. Substantial fines are included for violations.

The bill passed out of the Senate after a week of 12-hour sessions with the Washington State Hospital Association, the Department of Health, and the Department of Labor and Industries before going to the House.

This victory was fueled by our members, who posted selfies with placards supporting safe staffing, signed in “pro” on our priority bills, wrote to and met with legislators, and shared their stories of working under short-staffing conditions.

WSNA galvanized every resource possible to push forward safe staffing standards in the state legislature in 2022 and 2023. We joined forces with SEIU1199NW and UFCW3000 as the Washington Safe + Healthy Coalition, which collectively represents 75,000 healthcare workers.

Our government affairs team (Katharine Weiss and Jessica Hauffe) met with stakeholders to draft the bill and strategize how to get it passed, organized nurses for Lobby Day and hearings, held grueling meetings with the Washington State Hospital Association to find common ground, and issued continual updates.

Our leadership (Executive Director David Keepnews) held key meetings with stakeholders and was there every step of the way.

Our labor relations team (Labor Director Jayson Dick and the 21 nurse representatives and organizers) rallied nurses to send their support to legislators and get their friends and family to support the bill as well. On Feb. 16, 2023, the day the bill was being heard in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, 5,700 people had signed in their support. Just 990 opposed.

Our communications team (Marketing and Communications Director Ruth Schubert, Bobbi Nodell, Matt Vivion, Ben Tilden, and Joline Railey) handled daily press requests, trained nurses on speaking to the media, found a WSNA member to speak to every reporter who requested an interview on safe staffing, posted news updates, created videos of nurses in support of safe staffing, and spread the news on social media.

WSNA’s Legislative & Health Policy Council, chaired by Erin Allison, met weekly to provide leadership and direction to our legislative efforts.

Lobby Day returns to Olympia

Every year, WSNA holds a Lobby Day with members so they can meet with legislators on their priorities — a wonderful way of getting nurses’ voices heard.

In 2023, more than 82 members and staff held 100 meetings with state legislators and legislative staff on Feb. 2. They discussed safe staffing and other key priorities, such as legislation allowing nurses access to workers compensation for their PTSD without having to pinpoint their trauma to a specific event. This was the first in-person Lobby Day since 2020.

WSNA’s 2021 legislative victories

  • HB 1272 promotes health transparency at hospitals. The bill requires hospitals to provide additional detail regarding expenses and revenues in financial reports to the DOH as well as collecting data on health equity by reporting on demographic information of discharged patients (voluntary participation from the patient). The bill also included an interdisciplinary study on outcomes-related acute care hospital staffing; the UW School of Nursing was named as the lead entity for the study. .
  • HB 1152 established a statewide Public Health Advisory Board under the DOH and included a seat for WSNA. The advisory board monitors the performance of, and provides recommendations to, the governmental public health system and evaluates the public health emergency response and the use of Foundational Public Health Services funding. The legislature approved $147 million in new Foundational Public Health Services for the 2021-23 biennium.
  • SB 5190 provides presumptive eligibility for healthcare workers during COVID-19 or any other federal- or state-declared health emergency. This means that the state will assume nurses and other healthcare workers contracted the virus or disease at work, by virtue of the fact that nurses are working around it every shift. During COVID-19 or another declared health emergency, this bill makes it easier for nurses and other healthcare workers to access workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance benefits.
  • HB 1664 increased funding for school nurses. The bill secured $91 million to increase minimum allocations of school nurses, psychologists, social workers, and counselors in the prototypical school funding model over a three-year period. (WSNA lobbies on behalf of the School Nurse Organization of Washington.)
  • HB 2007 established a Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program under the Washington Health Corps. The program is administered by the Washington Student Achievement Council in collaboration with the Department of Health. The maximum loan repayment award is $75,000 for a minimum three-year obligation of full-time employment.
  • SHB 1779 requires hospitals and ambulatory care facilities to adopt policies requiring the use of smoke evacuation systems for planned surgical procedures.The bill also creates a Surgical Smoke Evacuation Account for Critical Access Hospitals and sole community hospitals to receive reimbursement for their upgrades. WSNA collaborated with the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) in supporting this bill.
  • Increased funding for nursing education. The Legislature made a $71 million investment in supporting nursing and health care education programs, which included funding for simulation labs, nurse preceptors, and the establishment of new nursing programs.
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Social media

In 2023, WSNA posted more than 39 photos of nurses from local units across the state holding safe staffing placards in photo galleries on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The galleries had a combined count of 47,140 impressions (views) and 3,619 engagements (likes, shares, comments, etc.). We also posted a series of six videos of nurses sharing safe staffing stories at Lobby Day. The videos had a combined 54,546 impressions and 3,238 engagements.